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[Gartner Digital Business] Are you ready for a digital business future?

From the Internet of Things to the Internet of Me, the digital realm is set to have a huge impact on the way we do business...

Need convincing that digital is not only the future but already the way we do business? Take these facts for example: 2D photos can be stitched together to create 3D images using photogrammetry. Over 500,000 apps have been developed over the past three years. $272,000 is spent online every second. A video on your homepage makes it 53% more likely to appear on the front page of Google searching results.

Each of these is a staggering fact when taken in singularly, but zip them all together and you have an idea of the content shared at Gartner's 'architecting the digital business ecosystem' conference on 5 May at the CTICC.

George Ambler, Gartner Executive Partner, kicked off the conference by explaining the relevance of emerging practices and challenges based on applying digital strategy. He then introduced Brian Burke, Gartner's VP of research, who joked that he has been involved in business architecture "since frameworks were popular".

Digital business demystified

In Gartner's CIO Agenda survey from March 2015, 22% of respondents said they are already involved in digital business, with exponential jumps expected in the coming years. Burke spoke of digital business as a trend comprising many sub-trends, all set to have an impact on business and society in general. Simply put, it's the creation of new business designs based on blurring the digital and physical worlds.

Burke then asked: "How would it impact your business if everything was listening, sensing, acting and replying?" It's a case of taking the Internet of Things to the next level. This is not a futuristic science fiction ideal, as the rise of 'smart things' means we now have businesses interacting with people, and people interacting with things - everything from devices to cloud services and more.

[Gartner Digital Business] Are you ready for a digital business future?
© Brian Burke, Gartner's Opening Keynote presentation: Architecting the Digital Business Ecosystem

The Internet of Things is definitely an accelerant in this regard. Back in 2009, there were an estimated 1.6 billion personal devices, by 2020 this is expected to rise to 7.3 billion and the amount of personal devices connected to the internet predicted to outnumber people by 5 to 1, spawning digital business as a form of evolution.

Still on the topic of evolution, Burke said by 2005 the commerce focus had shifted to one of people talking to business, but since then it has also been about social media and cloud technology, with digital marketing as the focus. We're now moving to a phase where people are still talking to business, but business is in turn talking back to things. As a result, the next phase will include smart machines and autonomous business. We already have machines acting as intermediaries between customers and businesses, and there's an entirely different dynamic to consider with the rise of cognitive computing and autonomous vehicles.

Smart things = smart business

These may sound like fantasy scenarios but remember that all the technology required actually already exists today. It's just a case of making the connections happen, says Burke. 'Smart things' are an integral part of business execution. But we're not quite there yet: a greater ecosystem of providers and capabilities is required in order to fully capitalise on a new range of technologies, like the Internet of Things and 3D printers. It's a reflection of the shift from wanting digital machinists to digital humanists - we're now more interested in businesses being human-centric than in trying to make humans just like machines.

So, how will digital business change the world? Burke predicts that by 2020, connected kitchens will leverage big data with smart thermostats, security, meters, lighting and appliances, all connected through a central command centre. Moving on to cities, there'll definitely be drones for delivery, smart transport, smart energy to switch on lighting only as needed, and advanced policing using facial recognition and mood sensors for pre-crime analysis, much like in the movie Minority Report. The internet will help augment office work too, with automated robotic workers, automated marking in schools, and the ability to identify rogue traders before they go rogue by analysing how often they're exceeding their trade limits. Rural areas will also benefit, with farms that can afford to do so investing in robotic milking technology, soil moisture sensors, thermal imaging drones to detect pests in crops, as well as autonomous tractors that ride set routes. Everything will be high-tech.

It's not just scenario planning, it's a coming reality. But don't panic, there are only three things to do differently in preparation for this, Burke says: "Explore the unknown and new types of technology, expand your repertoire, and embrace it all."

Discovering the business benefits of embracing digital

Don't forget that this new digital business ecosystem still includes people, business and things as it does now, we're just expecting a broader network of interaction. Burke feels Discovery Vitality is a great example of a business embracing this trend, in collecting behavioural and purchase data and offering rewards for improving your lifestyle based.

What's interesting is that Discovery's model focuses on whether your healthier lifestyle is present-biased or future-biased and it uses these insights to select the customers it actually wants to target. This has proven so effective that the model is now franchised globally.

In closing, Burke said all businesses need to refine how they think of customers, clients or users: Think of them instead as consumers, who consume what we provide. We're interacting indirectly with them on the platforms they prefer, in a personalised way, in an era best defined as 'the Internet of Me'.

Are you ready for a digital business future?

About Leigh Andrews

Leigh Andrews AKA the #MilkshakeQueen, is former Editor-in-Chief: Marketing & Media at, with a passion for issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, and of course, gourmet food and drinks! She can be reached on Twitter at @Leigh_Andrews.

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